While creating their new album, Nightfall, Little Big Town found collaboration to be organic and fruitful — often with other artists, but especially with each other. The country quartet truly co-produced this record, though bandmate Phillip Sweet explains to The Boot that, to a certain extent, they’ve always been producers on their albums.
“We never really called it co-producing in the past, when we did records with Jay Joyce or Wayne Kirkpatrick, but I think we learned through those processes that we were always co-producing anyway, because we like to be a part of every step of the process,” Sweet relates. “We would capture a spirit, and we would all know, in the moment, where the best take was.”
Together, Little Big Town saw each song through, from start to finish. That goes for the tracks on which they collaborated with producers and songwriters outside of their core foursome, too: The people with whom Sweet and bandmates Karen Fairchild, Kimberly Schlapman and Jimi Westbrook co-wrote any given song tended to stay involved with that song every step of the way.
“The collaborations of the co-production were really organic, with the writing,” Sweet goes on to say. “When we did collaborate with Daniel Tashian and Ian Fitchuk for some songs, it was a collaboration, and I loved that … We just wanted to have these people in the room, because we had written the songs together. I think that’s the way you get the best piece of work at the end of the session, is finding that ‘Oh, you heard something I wouldn’t have heard.’
“I love collaborating,” he adds. “It was just a beautiful process for us.”
It’s not surprising that Little Big Town find that they make their most magical music in a collaborative setting; after all, they’ve been writing and performing as a quartet for some two decades. Sweet says that, at this point, their creative decisions as a band often come from a deeper place than intellectual reasoning.
“You know, I wish I knew what I was doing, I wish I was smarter than that, but, yeah. It always seems to have this magical intuitiveness,” he says with a laugh. “That’s what happened with this thing: We all just looked at each other and said, ‘Let’s go with our gut. This is right.'”
That intuition helps the band navigate their way through a changing music industry, in which many artists are searching for new ways to release music and think about albums. While newer artists turn to listening trends or streaming data to dictate how they’ll structure their music release strategy, Little Big Town look within.
“The way everything is evolving, we just want our music — we just want people to hear it, and share what we feel like is our best work.” — Phillip Sweet
“We’ve always followed that,” Sweet explains. “Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but at least we can go to sleep at night knowing that we made a decision based on our intuition and what we thought was right at the moment. That’s kind of how we followed this whole process, with putting out a song like “The Daughters,” which, radio didn’t even play it, you know?
“People are listening to their music in a different way than they used to. They’re not just depending on radio to listen. So we have to share our voice in a new way, too,” he continues. “That’s been the approach with this record, and I think that’s gonna continue to be so. The way everything is evolving, we just want our music — we just want people to hear it, and share what we feel like is our best work.”
Thematically, Nightfall always leans heavily on that natural, intuitive process. Before the themes of the album fell into place, the group was already making songs for the record. Even before the band could articulate it, it felt to Little Big Town as though an overarching message was leading them through the new body of work.
It all began with the first song they made for the album, “Next to You,” which, as it happens, turned out to be the project’s first track. “It really starts where we were at, painting the picture where we wanted to start … We loved the way it felt, what it said, how it sounded and what it built. It was so dynamic. And that really started the whole process,” Sweet recalls.
From there, Little Big Town started reflecting on the theme of “nightfall,” and what it meant to the record. “It seems to be a moment where everyone starts to wind down,” Sweet says. “Everyone starts to think about having a good time, going on to have a cocktail, or whatever that means for you. It starts to unwind your stress, in a way.”
Part of what they love about the theme is how dynamic it is: Nightfall can be a time of relaxation, celebration and fun, but it can have darker undertones, too.
“It’s a time when not only good times happen, but also when people can spiral into the other direction, and be sad and be alone,” Sweet offers. “We tried to play to that in a way that felt natural and felt real, because we’ve all been through those moments.”
Even in the darker songs, the band wanted to incorporate an element of hope or finding common ground. “Especially with a song like “Problem Child,” where you might feel alone, but you’re not alone. It’s saying, ‘You’re not the only one,'” Sweet says.
Just as even the most celebratory songs on Nightfall can have notes of loneliness and pain, the darker material has an undertone of hope. While every song on the album takes a different approach to the theme of nightfall, they’re all connected.
“It felt really fun to connect these pieces of a puzzle about what it feels like to be living your life, basically,” Sweet reflects.
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